Whole Grains Associated with Lower Heart- Disease Risk

IF YOU'VE BEEN dragging your feet about boosting your whole grain intake to the new federal dietary guidelines' recommendation of at least three ounces daily, here's a new incentive to get with the program: A diet rich in whole grains appears to lower many people's risk of developing heart disease.

A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that men who ate the most whole grains had an 18 percent lower risk of heart disease compared with those who ate the least. The study particularly spotlighted the importance of bran-the outer layer of whole grains, stripped away in highly processed grain products. The group that ate the most bran had a 30 percent lower risk of heart disease than those who ate the least bran.

The study looked at whole-grain consumption among 42,850 middle-aged and older men participating in a long-running study of health, diet and lifestyle begun in 1986. During a 14-year follow-up period, researchers documented 1,818 incidents of coronary heart disease. After controlling for other cardiovascular risk factors, the scientists found a beneficial association between whole-grain intake and heart-disease risk.

Another new study reported similar findings in women. According to study coauthor Alice Lichtenstein, DSc, Gershoff professor at Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition, postmenopausal women with coronary-artery disease who ate more whole grains had a slower rate of regression of heart disease than those who ate less.

Eric Rimm, ScD, associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and the senior author of the study on men, says the actual fiber content may be only one aspect of the benefits of eating whole grains. It's likely, he says, that the whole range of nutrients you get from eating whole grains--such as B vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and various plant chemicals--also plays a part.

The study's findings about bran don't necessarily mean you need to add bran to your foods, according to Rimm. Eating plenty of whole grains will also add bran to your diet.

Still not convinced to eat your oatmeal? A meta-analysis of clinical trials, published in the Archives of Internal Medicines, linked increased dietary fiber and reductions in blood pressure. The association was strongest in people over 40 and those with hypertension. The researchers' conclusion? "Increasing the intake of fiber ... may contribute to the prevention of hypertension."

On Your Table: Whole Grains
"Unfortunately, many people kind of associated whole grains with eating cardboard," says Harvard researcher Eric Rimm. "But they should know that they have a lot of choices."

Whole-grain options include oatmeal, bulgur, whole barley and even popcorn. Many breakfast cereals have recently boosted their whole-grain content--but check nutrition labels to make sure. Look for cereals where "whole grain" is the first ingredient listed, not sugar.

Bread can be another good source of whole grains. Don't, however, be fooled by terms like "wheat bread" or "wheat flour"--make sure the word "whole" is used as well. Rimm suggests picking bread "where you can actually see the grain."

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